Scanner set to analyse impact of Olympic traffic on air quality

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New technology will go on trial during this year’s Olympics to analyse the impact of extra traffic on London’s pollution levels.

Leicester University researchers will test their CityScan devices — previously covered in The Engineer when they were under the design and construction phase — on three rooftops across London to generate a 3D pollution map of the city.

‘CityScan is a pollution scanner that uses scattered sunlight to map nitrogen dioxide in the urban environment,’ team leader Dr Roland Leigh of the university’s Earth Observation Science Group told The Engineer via email. ‘CityScan uses the absorption structures in the sunlight to establish concentrations along distinct lines of sight.’

Unlike existing technology, which can only give an accurate reading for certain ‘hotspots’, CityScan will be able to show the air quality over every point in London — including individual roads, playgrounds and other buildings.

‘CityScan is the first technology with the ability to produce a full panorama of air quality from a single instrument,’ said Leigh.

As well as giving overall readings, the sensors will reveal the dates and times when pollution peaks.

Sensors will be placed on a 30-storey building in North Kensington, a 14-storey building in Chelsea and a third location that is yet to be decided.

The sensors will specifically monitor the amount of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere as this is the gas emitted by vehicles that is responsible for several detrimental health impacts, such as decreased lung function and increased risk of respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma.

The 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games are expected to draw 11 million visitors from around the world to the UK’s capital for seven weeks, and three million extra car journeys are anticipated on the busiest day.

‘There are substantial measures being put into place to minimise pollution sources and optimise transport networks during the Olympic Games,’ said Leigh. ‘It is likely, given the large increase in activity, that we will have worse air quality than normal, unless mitigation measures are exceptionally successful. It is certainly vital that we are measuring this situation from as many perspectives as we can to fully understand the implications.’

The CityScan project has been funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Centre for Earth Observation Instrumentation and has been supported by the (now defunct) East Midlands Development Agency.